By STEPHANIE PRICE
Big girls don’t cry. Or do they? My big girl does. She’s 7 years old, a delightful mix of wide-eyed innocence and spicy-hot temperament. During our camping trip last month, she marked among her life’s first-evers the painting of her toenails a delicate, pale pink and the gutting and fileting of a juicy bluegill.
I love that about her. She’s a potpourri of a person, a girl who loves sparkly shoes and frog hunting, willowy dancing and climbing trees, sweet snacks and Tabasco on her eggs. In her potpourri personality, however, is a trait — or a habit or a tendency, I don’t know what — that makes her cry at the drop of a hat. And I mean that literally. I have actually said things like, “Eliana, dropping your hat is no reason to cry.”
She’s a big girl, and she cries all the time.
I guess I shouldn’t write “all the time,” but from this fairly un-emotive person’s perspective, it seems like a lotta crying.
When she was a toddler, she’d wake up from a nap and cry. Today she cries when someone mistreats her; she cries when she’s frustrated; she cries when she realizes she’s done something wrong.
I’m wondering about this crying because it’s a mystery I haven’t solved — not really. Sure, I cry when I feel like it, and sometimes I feel like it more than others, but I don’t cry — or hug, but that’s another matter — all that often. I’m too practical. But to be a tolerant and helpful mother to my big girl who does cry, I should try to understand.
LIKE EVERYTHING ELSE we human do, crying is based in science, in biology and physiology. So first know your eyes are meant to be wet and to leak. For one, it’s how they stay clean and moist round the clock. When you blink, you spread a nice wet and oily substance over your eyes. Second, your body is designed to tear up when the wind hits your face, when allergies come knocking or when something like sand or sawdust irritates your peepers. That’s a defense mechanism, and it’s pretty cool.
None of that is emotional crying. It’s everyday wetness and tearing aimed at homeostasis.
But then we humans — and scientists largely conclude only humans do this — produce and release tears in response to emotions. There are neuronal and hormonal — brain and hormones — reactions that occur inside and take us, in fractions of seconds, from feeling something deeply to crying about it.
It is amazing how it happens, and, like I think so often, I wish I had some sort of microscopic x-ray vision to watch the process in action. Think about how strong it is when you cry. Ever felt yourself about to blubber and tried to stop it? Most of us can, but it takes some work, right? You have to think about something else, talk yourself down, leave the room and pat your eyes with cold water, willing them to stop?
By the way, unless I really have to, I don’t do that anymore. I just let the tears come.
You know why? Tears — emotional tears — have more than just proteins and oil and that always-there salt in them. Our emotional tears have some 80 ingredients in them, many HORMONES, some enzymes even. They’re a super-cool substance scientists theorize is designed to do everything from soften our enemies’ hearts toward us to release toxins from our bodies to reduce our pain and improve our mood.
Ever felt that mixture of exhausted, but pleasantly so, after a good, hard cry? Those tears helped bring that about, no doubt. Crying serves a purpose, and if we were mean to “don’t cry,” I doubt our bodies would work this way. So cry on, I suppose.
BUT NOW THAT I UNDERSTAND my daughter is simply responding to emotions, I wonder, “Are those emotions too erratic?” Why would a dropped hat cause such a great reaction? I mean, seriously, it is sometimes laughable what she’ll sob about — a missing teapot, her favorite shirt getting dirty, a missed phone call.
Not sure if it’s the best parenting strategy at all, but I have said more than a few times, “Ellie, that is no reason to cry. There are children starving in the world. People are sick and sad and lost. THOSE are reasons to cry.”
But, especially given the biology of the matter of crying, who am I to say what qualifies as a “valid” reason to cry?
For now, I think I’ll embrace her perceived emotionalism — rich, salty tears and all — as part of her personality potpourri and see when and how she wants to explore what troubles her. Dropped hats and everything.
Goshen News columnist Stephanie Price is a wife, mother, teacher, childbirth educator, midwife’s assistant and nursing student from Elkhart. Contact her at email@example.com, 269-641-7249 or on Facebook at the page “Whole Family Column by Steph Price.”